Today, I’ll address questions like: Are we obliged to help others when they are in adversity? If so, under what conditions? Who, exactly, deserves our help? How well do current welfare states perform the task at hand? And how might we put together a system to do the job properly, helping those who need and deserve help, while avoiding injustice to anyone?
Views from the past
John Locke, certainly, knew that there are good reasons to help your fellow human beings when they are in trouble. For he wrote, in his First Treatise: “It would always be a sin, in any man of estate, to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty. As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much of another’s plenty as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise.”
But a counter-balancing view comes from 16th century English clergyman Richard Hooker, quoted by Locke himself. “If I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should show greater measure of love to me, than they have by me showed unto them.” In other words, if you behave badly towards others, you can’t reasonably expect them to behave any better towards you.
In my view, Locke is right, but Hooker is more right. Locke is right, because undeserved adversity – such as accident, illness, disability, unemployment – can happen to anyone. “There, but for the grace of god, go I.” Moreover, old age hits everyone who doesn’t die young. So, if you don’t show caring for your fellow human beings when they’re in trouble, you can’t expect them to feel much obligation to help you when you’re the one in trouble. But Hooker is more right; because brotherhood must be a two-way process. If individuals fail to show fellowship towards you, or if they behave badly towards you or even do harm to you, you can’t reasonably be obliged to feel or to show any brotherhood towards them.
My take on all this is that, to be worthy of our compassion and help, individuals must behave as our fellow human beings. That means, they must measure up to two sets of standards. One, they must be human beings; they must behave in ways that are natural to, and right for, human beings. And two, they must be our fellows. They must care about us; each of us as an individual. In particular, they must refrain from doing things that unjustly harm or inconvenience us, violate our rights, or restrict our freedoms.
Here, in brief, is my take on human nature. We human beings are individuals. And we have free will. But we have also an ethical dimension. We are moral agents, who strive to know right from wrong. And we are naturally good; that is, our nature leads us to seek to do what is right. Even though, obviously, some among us fail to develop that nature.
Furthermore, it is in our nature to form societies and to build civilization. And at a higher level yet, it is in our nature to be creative. It is this creativity which elevates us above mere animals.
Convivial and disconvivial
In an earlier essay, I introduced the ideas of conviviality and convivial conduct. Other words you might use to describe such conduct are “civilized” or “reasonable.” I characterized some of the features of convivial conduct as follows: Seeking truth. Peacefulness, honesty, and respect for rights and freedoms. Refraining from harming innocents. Taking responsibility for directing your life, and for the effects of your actions on others. Striving to be economically productive. Tolerating difference. Always trying to behave with integrity and in good faith.
On the other hand, some individuals are disconvivial. In large matters, or repeatedly, or even habitually, they engage in conduct that is not convivial. Such as: Lying, dealing in bad faith. Ordering, committing or supporting aggressions. Behaving unreasonably or irresponsibly towards others. Sponging off others. Violating rights, or promoting or supporting violations of rights. Trying to constrain others’ freedoms, or their enjoyment of their justly earned wealth. Those that behave in disconvivial ways are, to use a vernacular word, assholes.
Now, I’ll ask: Why should those of us, who strive to be convivial, feel any sense of identity with, or caring for, those that behave like assholes? Why should truthful, honest people, for example, care about liars or the dishonest? Why should productive people care about the lazy? Why should peaceful people care about aggressors? Why should those, who respect others’ rights and freedoms, care about those that violate our rights or deny our freedoms?
From the point of view of those who strive to be convivial, disconvivials are a pain and a drain. They don’t measure up even to minimum standards of humanity. They are not fit to be accepted into any society of convivial human beings. Why, then, should we care about them?
Who are your fellows?
To promote, support or carry out any act that violates the rights of, harms or inconveniences, or seeks to harm or to inconvenience, innocent people is to commit an aggression against those innocent people. If you are a victim of such acts, those that did these things have committed aggression against you. So, why should you feel any kind of fellowship for them? If they want, for example, to constrain your freedom, to subject you to harassment, to impose taxes on you from which you get no benefit, or to reduce or cut off your economic opportunities? They have behaved, not as your friends, but as your enemies.
Do you really have any obligation to help such individuals? Ought you to go out of your way, or to use any of your resources, for their benefit? My answer is: Hell, no. You have no obligation to feed again those that bit your hand last time. They owe you compensation for what they have done to you; you don’t owe them anything.
Political policies and agendas
Today we suffer under a host of bad political policies, promoted by self-serving interest groups. Some like to go to the school-bully that is political government to get favours for themselves, or to get harms done to those they don’t like. Others like to rob us of our earned money – to deny us, in Locke’s words, title to the product of our honest industry – to enrich themselves and their friends and supporters, or to fund their pet projects. And many of those projects are disconvivial in themselves; for example, spreading lies and propaganda, seeking to force people to change their lifestyles against their wills, or starting wars. Yet others have a yen to violate our freedoms just for the hell of it, or to enforce arbitrary “laws” harshly on us.
Whenever you are inconvenienced, harmed, or you have your rights violated or your freedoms unnecessarily constrained by a political policy, then those that promoted, supported or enforced that policy have committed aggressions against you. And in a nasty, sneaky way too. What they have done is worse than merely criminal; it is cowardly, too. It is morally equivalent to – unprovoked – punching you in the nose, then running away.
But it is the deliberate imposition of political ideologies and agendas that leads to the worst excesses of disconviviality. Such agendas spawn webs of interconnected policies, all directed to outcomes that today are, virtually always, hostile to the interests of convivial people.
Take, as an example, socialism, which even 180 years ago had shown that it doesn’t work. Or communism, that has caused the deaths of almost 100 million people. Or fascism, a warlike ideology that easily turns to genocide. Or religious conservatism, that seeks to force everyone to conform to the customs of one particular sect. Or social conservatism, which seeks to maintain an existing order, even after it has clearly failed. Or corporate cronyism, or some ill-defined idea of “social justice,” both of which seek to enrich favoured groups, and to make innocent people pay for it.
I ask: Are those that promote and support these agendas really our brothers, our fellow human beings? And my answer again is: Hell, no. Should Jews, for example, be expected to feel fellowship with former nazis, or with their modern cohorts? Should those, whose lives have been damaged by bad political policies, be expected to feel compassion for, or to give any kind of help to, those that promoted or supported such policies? Surely not. They didn’t, and don’t, care about you; so why should you care about them? If an asshole starves, that’s one less asshole. Isn’t that a good thing?
But among all these evil ideologies, the worst is the environmentalist or green agenda. Hatched, propagandized and rammed down our throats by a globalist élite with no concern at all for us human beings, this agenda openly seeks to destroy the industrial civilization, which over the last two centuries has brought more opportunities for human beings to fulfil ourselves than ever before. And it does so by – among much else – using lies, bad “science,” hype and deceptions, by inverting the burden of proof, and by making the accused prove a negative. It is no exaggeration to say that those that favour the green agenda are traitors to human civilization. And therefore, they deserve to be expelled from our civilization, and denied its benefits.
Although there are government run welfare systems of one kind or another in many countries, the roots of the welfare state system lie in the UK. Before the 19th century, help for the poor was a religious matter, and was provided by local parishes. After the disastrous experiment of the 1834 Poor Law, there grew up private systems, through which people could get relief from poverty. Most notable among these were the friendly societies. But the political class still wanted to take control of these systems. Via a “national insurance” scheme in 1911, they gradually progressed to the creation, in 1948, of the giant, all-encompassing combine that is today called the welfare state.
In the UK at least, it isn’t just pensions, health and unemployment insurance that are provided by government and financed through taxation. Among much else, there is subsidized housing. There is “free” education. Things like roads and railways are, more or less directly, controlled by government. Even bus services are subsidized. The effect is like a giant financial whirlpool. For productive, honest people, some of what has been taken from us through taxation is, eventually, re-cycled to us in one form or another. But a lot of it – most – just disappears.
So, how well has the welfare state done its job? After 70 years, has it ended poverty? Has it made us all better off? Has it provided us with financial security in our old age? Hell, no.
First, the welfare state has always been a Ponzi scheme. It doesn’t enable people to build up a surplus, which they can use when in need. Rather, it has always depended on those currently working to pay for benefits for those not working, or no longer able to work. Then, in the early 1970s, there began the fall in indigenous birth rates to below replacement levels, which today has reached almost all Western countries. The political class’s response has been twofold. First, to increase taxes. Thus, today in the UK we suffer the highest tax burden in 50 years. And, as the population ages, that burden is increasing rapidly. Second, to actively encourage mass immigration. This has led, understandably, to negative reactions from those who feel their culture is being diluted, and their home turned into a foreign land; if not also a building site.
Second, the economic policies that maintain the welfare state have had disastrous consequences for many working people. Sixty years ago, one working parent could support a family. Now, it often takes two. Buying a home, too, has become an increasing strain. Meanwhile, low interest rates and deliberate currency inflation – euphemized as “quantitative easing” – have favoured the state itself, and the big corporations that hang off its coat-tails; while we ordinary people are unable to preserve anything like the value of our savings. Further, acts of political meddling have taken away the access to the market, and so the earning power, even of highly skilled individuals. I myself am a victim of such an evil act, code named IR35, which for 20 years now has reduced my income to half or even a third of what I’m worth in the market.
Third, the welfare state has had bad social consequences, too. Sociologists tell us that it has created an underclass. With no desire to work, and in some cases with criminal tendencies, they have become unemployable and dependent on the state for their very existence. It has also caused a more general moral decay; many now show no shame about taking as much as they possibly can from the trough. It has destroyed the feeling of solidarity, that underpinned what used to be known as “civil society.” Further, those who, like me, have been expected to pay for all this, but have stood on our own two feet and never claimed any social benefits, don’t get even a single word of thanks or appreciation. Not even from one of the recipients, not even once. Ungrateful bastards! Instead, they give thanks and respect, not to those who earned the wealth they are living off, but to the political class that re-distributed it in their direction.
Fourth, like any centralized system that is not subject to market pressures or competition, the welfare state has become expensive and bureaucratic. Worse, it has encouraged health fascists and other nanny-state freedom-haters to try to take advantage. That’s why we keep hearing trial balloons for policies like denying medical treatment to smokers, or imposing a “calorie cap” on restaurant meals. Or, even, the ridiculous idea of a “universal basic income” (UBI). Such a system would have all the failings of the welfare state, and more. The poor would, very likely, be worse off even than under today’s welfare systems. A UBI would take away all incentive to work hard, or even to work at all. And so, it would inevitably end in disastrous failure.
And last… the welfare state is unsustainable. It’s like a neglected, ramshackle building that will eventually collapse under its own weight. The political class know this, but they aren’t willing to admit they were wrong. They won’t do anything to dismantle or even to reform the system. Therefore, it continues inexorably on its way towards the brick wall of bankruptcy. And when it hits… unless you’re rich or politically connected, you don’t want to be old. Of course, the political class will look to make sure they themselves don’t suffer. Unless there is radical change, it will be those, who have paid and paid and paid but grow old at the wrong time, who will be shafted. Maybe 10 or 15 years from now. Maybe sooner.
A sane, sustainable system
How might we build a sustainable system, which can help those who are poor through no fault of their own, while allowing everyone to get on with their lives in their own way? The first component, I think, must be savings. People must have incentives and opportunities to work, to develop their skills, and so to build up a reserve for their old age, or for a rainy day. And whatever is left over, they must be able to leave to their children or to other favourites. To enable this requires several conditions. One, a fully free market. Two, a framework of good governance, that delivers peace and objective justice to all, and defends individual rights, and in particular property rights. Three, a reasonably stable currency, which cannot be arbitrarily debauched. And four, the absence of a greedy, grasping, ravenous political state.
The second component is insurance. This works best for those risks, such as serious accident or disability, which have a low chance of happening, but major negative effects if they do happen. Third comes the implementation of systems of mutual aid; perhaps through re-vitalization of friendly societies, or creation of modern versions of them. Fourth is a revival of civil society, in which people look out for their neighbours, and in which there is personal contact between helpers and helped. And as a final backstop, particularly in cases of unexpected emergency, there is always voluntary charity.
As to the how to get there from here, that subject demands an essay in itself. All I’ll say now is that the interests of productive, honest, self-directing people must always take precedence over the interests of the lazy, the dishonest, the politicized and all other assholes.
To sum up
All human individuals owe help and compassion to their fellow human beings. But fellowship is a two-way process. You don’t owe anything to those that fail to behave as human beings, or fail to behave as your fellows, or support political policies that harm you.
Today’s welfare states have had major negative economic and social effects. They have all but destroyed solidarity and civil society, and caused moral decay and loss of individual freedom. Furthermore, welfare states are unsustainable. Without radical change, they will collapse; and sooner rather than later.
A free, just, de-politicized and sustainable welfare system is feasible. It could be built on a foundation of savings, insurance, mutual aid, civil society and, at need, charity.